Rapper Tekashi 6ix9ine testified on Tuesday against two alleged members of a Brooklyn street gang, describing how he discovered a formula for success with the crew before betraying it by becoming a prosecution witness.
6ix9ine - his rainbow-colored hair gone but trademark "69" tattoo on his forehead visible to anyone in the courtroom - explained that his role in the Nine Trey Gangsta Bloods was to "just keep making hits and be the financial support for the gang ... so they could buy guns and stuff like that."
Asked what he got in return, the 23-year-old rapper responded: "My career. I got the street credibility. The videos, the music, the protection - all of the above."
The testimony in federal court in Manhattan was a dramatic turnabout for a performer who had gone out of his way to portray himself as a legitimate gang member. He told the jury he decided to cooperate only a day after his arrest last year on a racketeering indictment naming him as a member of the gang - a move that has put him at risk behind bars and prompted rap icon Snoop Dogg to label him a "snitch" in a recent Instagram post.
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On trial are Aljermiah Mack and Anthony Ellison, described by prosecutors as two high-ranking members of a gang that terrorized city streets with drug-dealing and gunfire. They say that after a falling out with 6ix9ine, Ellison took revenge by abducting and robbing the rapper.
Both defendants have denied the charges, with an attorney for Ellison portraying the alleged kidnapping as a publicity stunt.
6ix9ine, 23, was a social media phenomenon with millions of followers on Instagram before becoming an ascendant name in hip-hop. He had a multiplatinum hit song, "Fefe," with Nicki Minaj, which peaked at No. 3 on the pop charts, and "Stoopid," featuring the incarcerated rapper Bobby Shmurda.
With prosecutors referring to him by his legal name, Daniel Hernandez, 6ix9ine testified on Tuesday that he was a high-school dropout and deli worker when he launched his rap career. He said he began inviting gang members to be extras in his videos for "Gummo" and other hit songs, he said, "because I wanted the aesthetic to be full of Nine Trey."
Prosecutors showed the jury portions of the videos so that 6ix9nine could identify various gang members, some seen on tape flashing guns and hand signs, and explain lyrics to songs that he said were often meant to taunt "somebody I didn't get along with."
When the videos blew up on the internet, "I knew I had a formula," he said.
6ix9ine admitted in a guilty plea this year that he joined the Nine Trey Gangsta Bloods and helped try to kill a rival gang member.
With the plea deal, 6ix9ine can gain leniency at sentencing from what otherwise would have been a mandatory minimum 47 years in prison if he admits all crimes and testifies truthfully when summoned.